Kicking over the hornet's nest
At the CIA, the new boss has the spies and analysts in an uproar
To those who worked with him, Stephen Kappes seemed the perfect choice to lead the covert side of the CIA in the midst of the war on terrorism. Appointed in June, Kappes, a former marine, is a veteran CIA case officer who served in dangerous and difficult postings in Moscow and Pakistan. More recently, he reported directly to President Bush as the CIA's point man in secret high-stakes negotiations with Libya that ended the rogue state's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs.
So last week, many CIA insiders were astonished when Kappes became an early casualty under the rule of Porter Goss, the recently appointed director of central intelligence. Goss, himself a former CIA case officer who recently chaired the House Intelligence Committee, came into his job in September with a mandate to reform a troubled agency blamed for a series of grave lapses before the September 11 attacks and the Iraq war. But while Goss was widely expected to shake the place up, the departure of Kappes and his deputy, Michael Sulick, stunned intelligence veterans in Washington, who saw the pair as the most qualified team to lead the CIA's Directorate of Operations in years. "The planets lined up," says Milt Bearden, a 30-year CIA veteran who ran the agency's arming of Afghan rebels in the Soviet war. "You had the right guys in the right job at the right time." Ironically, the two men shared Goss's critique of the CIA's shortcomings. Says a former top CIA official who worked with Kappes: "These guys weren't in denial that 9/11 and Iraq were intelligence failures."
How, then, could two such widely praised officers end up as casualties in an effort at reform? Accusations swirled around Washington last week of partisan vendettas and bureaucratic turf wars. In reality, it's a complex story of bitter personality clashes that quickly spun out of control, fueled by years of mutual distrust finally playing out in a highly charged political atmosphere. With CIA morale plunging to some of the lowest levels in 25 years, the stakes could not be higher. As the nation fights wars on multiple fronts, the episode has left many questioning Goss's weeks-old reign and his ability to manage the far-flung intelligence community on the front lines of the nation's defense.
"The Hitler youth." When Goss arrived at the CIA, he brought with him four longtime Republican aides from the House Intelligence Committee to make up his inner circle. Led by his former staff director, Patrick Murray, the group was notorious at the CIA, where many viewed them as arrogant, partisan, and caught up in micromanaging marginal programs. At CIA headquarters, the Goss aides soon acquired a nickname: "the Hitler youth."
On Capitol Hill, many on the intelligence committees saw an agency in denial over the extent of its problems and possessing a reflexive disdain for outsiders. "They are completely shut off from reality," says a Republican congressional source. Repeated leaks about Goss's progress at the CIA only confirmed to many in Congress that the agency is an entrenched bureaucracy mainly interested in protecting its own.